Jury prepares to decide fate of DeKalb CEO Ellis


How jury selection unfolded

Each side in the trial of suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis settled on a jury Friday after nearly a week of trying.

  • The jury pool started with 200 citizens called for jury duty. Potential jurors were weeded out if they had medical or other hardships that would prevent them from serving, or if they couldn't remain unbiased when reviewing the case.
  • By Friday morning, the number of eligible jurors had declined to 51. In court, lawyers for the prosecution and defense sent home those they didn't want sitting on the jury until they were left with 12 jurors and four alternates.
  • The 12 black women, two black men and two white women chosen for the jury will have to be prepared for a trial that could last from four to six weeks.

With a jury chosen Friday, the trial of suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis will gain speed next week as each side prepared to argue over how he collected political contributions.

Ellis has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges that he strong-armed county contractors for campaign donations.

Jurors will likely hear wiretapped phone conversations, secretly recorded conversations with aides and testimony from contractors. The indictment against Ellis accuses him of threatening to stop giving work to vendors unless they gave to his 2012 re-election campaign.

Superior Court Judge Courtney Johnson, who told jurors the trial could last between four and six weeks, wrote notes for them to get time off from work. Opening statements will be delivered Tuesday.

The 12 members of the jury and four alternates were selected after nearly a week of questions to determine whether they could decide the case fairly.

The jury includes 12 black women, two black men and two white women.

“The issue is that you can’t solicit a campaign contribution in exchange for something else, or threaten someone so that they will give you a campaign contribution,” Johnson told a defense attorney arguing legal points in court after the jury had been sent home.

Also Friday, Johnson agreed to a request by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News to make public about 38 documents that have been kept secret in the case.

The sealed documents include allegations of contempt of court and violations of court rules requiring disclosure of evidence.

But Johnson didn’t follow through before the weekend, keeping the documents hidden at least until Monday. She hadn’t signed an order by the end of the business day Friday, nearly six hours after she said in court she would unseal the records.

The AJC sought access to the records Monday in a legal filing that said the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives the public and the press the right to view trial records, and that a hearing should have been held before documents were sealed.

“The United States Supreme Court has emphasized that public access to judicial records and proceedings is critical to the effective functioning not only of the particular proceeding in question, but to our entire system of self-government,” according to the motion.

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